Senator Sam Brownback gave an exceptional example of the incoherence that results from the mixing of religion and politics. Giving a speech to warm up the crowd for John McCain, Brownback tried to reconcile the belief that God has given America a destiny with the political assertion that the fate of America depends upon who we elect as President this year. Brownback said,
“I believe in American exceptionalism, that this is a special land and that to whom much is given much is required. We are blessed to be a blessing, but for America to fulfill its God-given destiny, we need leaders to help take us there…. John McCain is one of those leaders.”
So, on the one hand, Senator Brownback claims that America is a special nation that has been chosen by the Christian God to lead the world. He says this destiny is “God-given”. That’s past tense, which means the deal is already sealed. The destiny of world leadership has been given to us already.
Well, if that’s really true, and not just a lot of pretty meaningless God-talk babble, then we don’t need to do anything. It’s destiny, and destiny cannot be changed. If destiny can be changed, after all, it’s not destiny, but mere possibility. So, Sam Brownback is asserting, through the power of his religious faith, that the success of the United States of America is all wrapped up. It’s for sure, and nothing can stop us.
That’s in accordance with the religious belief of American exceptionalism that Sam Brownback claims to believe in, but it seems that as he was writing his speech, it occurred to Brownback that his religious pronouncement was giving Republicans permission to sit at home and do nothing – not even vote. You see, if God had guaranteed American leadership of the world as destiny, then it would mean that it wouldn’t matter if John McCain were elected or not. Whomever the titular President of the United States would be, God would be the real one in charge of the USA. So, why bother campaigning for John McCain?
That’s where Sam Brownback’s 180 degree turn begins, with the nonsense phrase “We are blessed to be a blessing,” which doesn’t mean anything except to express Senator Brownback’s feeling that he really has no idea what he’s talking about.
Then, Senator Brownback gives the internally inconsistent declaration that if we are to fulfill our God-given destiny, we need leaders to take us there, and that John McCain is one of those leaders. The clear implication is that if we do not choose John McCain as our President, America will not achieve its destiny. So, says Brownback, vote McCain!
That’s nonsense, of course. First of all, Senator Brownback never explained how he could tell that it was John McCain, and not Barack Obama, who would lead America toward the destiny already given to us by God. Did God come down out of the heavens and tell Senator Brownback? Did the angels send a memo to Senator Brownback’s office, or maybe, did Senator Brownback just make it all up and just pretend that he knows what the destiny of America is?
That’s the trouble with destiny. You can’t really know if something is destiny before it happens, because, well, there’s still a chance that it won’t happen. Even after something happens, you don’t really know if it was destiny for it to happen, or if there could have been another outcome. You don’t know, because you haven’t had the chance to try out that alternate reality, and you never will get the chance.
But, in spite of all the reasons he can’t possibly really know what America’s destiny is, Senator Brownback says that there is a destiny for America, and that it’s for America to be successful, and that God has made it a sure thing as a gift to us all.
So why was it that religious Americans need to elect John McCain again? Oh, yeah. It was because God has given us a destiny, but the destiny won’t ever take place unless we ourselves work to make it happen. It’s a tricky kind of destiny, see, kind of like a matching funds donation drive from God.
Only, where are God’s matching funds in this deal? According to Sam Brownback, God has told him that America has been given the gift of a destiny of successful world leadership, only it won’t take place unless we do the work ourselves.
Well, that’s not really a gift, is it? I mean, if I tell my nephew that I’m giving him the gift of a wooden sword, but he won’t get it unless he goes out into the forest and finds a big branch, and then carves the sword, then I haven’t really given my nephew the sword, have I? No. All I’ve done is tell my nephew what to do. I’ve just been a big talker. Talk, talk, talk.
So, according to the second half of Sam Brownback’s statement, God is a lazy, good-for-nothing spirit who won’t actually follow through on his promises. So, why bother paying attention to what God wants? Really? What’s God going to do about it if we ignore him? Will he doom us to Hell? Well, if God’s doom is like his destiny, then it’s all just a bunch of empty promises he’ll eventually forget about.
Neither version of Sam Brownback’s idea of God’s destiny makes sense. It’s ridiculous to claim that it doesn’t matter what Americans do, because God has America’s future all pre-arranged. It is equally ridiculous to assert that God is a great divine being who claims to direct the course of American history, but then lets the American people actually make the choices.
The sensible alternative that Senator Brownback never seems to have considered is that there is no God, and no destiny, and that the future course of history is not at all predetermined, but is created by our actions in the present. It’s a model of reality that gets rid of all the outrageous logical contradictions of Sam Brownback’s beliefs.
Unfortunately, the no-God model is not popular with voters. Apparently, the American people get rather nervous when they’re told that the future of their nation depends upon their choices today. They’d rather have a destiny that doesn’t make sense than a responsibility that does.